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$280K settlement pending in St. Paul police case

Michael Fleming, 31, filed a lawsuit against the city of St. Paul alleging his constitutional and civil rights were violated when police executed a search warrant at a residence he was at in 2011. He claims in the suit that officers unjustly knocked him to the ground and kicked him repeatedly, causing him to sustain various serious injuries. (Courtesy of Scott Swanson)

ST. PAUL — St. Paul has reached a $280,000 settlement with a man who said in a federal lawsuit that he sustained "massive facial trauma" at the hands of the city's officers.

The city council is due to vote on the settlement Wednesday, Dec. 6.

Michael Fleming was standing in a kitchen in a St. Paul apartment about six years ago when police officers burst into the unit with a search warrant and physically assaulted him without cause, according to the recently filed federal lawsuit. Fleming was visiting the apartment at the time and wasn't tied to the case that prompted the search, according to one of his attorneys.

Fleming also claims he never resisted officers' actions at the apartment, but was assaulted and seriously injured anyway.

The city denied Fleming's allegations and said it was not liable.

But City Attorney Samuel Clark said that, in his experience, "whenever the council considers whether to approve a proposed settlement, they take into account factors such as the facts of the case, the law that applies to the case, and the risks and costs associated with protracted litigation."

St. Paul's budget for legal settlements is $719,500 each year, though it was more than wiped out in April when the city paid out a record-setting $2 million to Frank Baker, who sued after he was severely injured when a St. Paul police dog repeatedly bit him and an officer kicked him. The other settlements in police lawsuits this year totaled $64,900.

Todd Hurley, St. Paul finance director, said there is unspent money in the general fund budget that will pay for the Fleming settlement.

"This will essentially use all the remaining unspent general fund budget, but will not require us to exceed that budget and dip into fund balance," Hurley said Friday.

Fleming said in his lawsuit that police officer Mike Dunaski struck him in the head with his gun, knocking him to the floor. He also claimed Dunaski and several other officers repeatedly kicked him and stomped on his head.

Dunaski was dismissed as a party to the lawsuit as part of the settlement, according to Scott Swanson, an attorney who represented Fleming, along with attorneys Paul Applebaum and Nicholas Rowley.

Fleming was taken to Regions Hospital, where he was treated for "massive facial trauma" and a traumatic brain injury during his three-day stay. He eventually needed a titanium plate inserted to repair a blowout to his left eye socket, according to the lawsuit.

Swanson said Fleming is now "looking forward to moving on."

"We think it's a very fair settlement, in light of all the circumstances in the case," he said. "It speaks to the city taking responsibility for the actions of its officers."

The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.